We've known for a while that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has a sense of humor. The company's April Fool's jokes have become about as legendary as our own. But timing? The company that kept Gmail in beta for years and released the Honeycomb tablet operating system before it was ready to make a serious run at the iPad has never been known for timing.
That may finally be changing. Last week, just as the fall TV season was starting to gather steam, the Big G announced plans that could disrupt every major cable and satellite provider, and possibly some of the big studios as well.
A better YouTube
Specifically, the search specialist said in a blog post that it is planning upwards of 100 new channels for broadcasting original content across a variety of categories. The Wall Street Journal subsequently cited anonymous sources who say Google has committed roughly $100 million in advance payments to create the channels.
Several A-list stars are involved, the Journal says, including Madonna, Jay-Z, Two And a Half Men star Ashton Kutcher, Rainn Wilson of The Office, and Sofia Vergara of Modern Family. Each channel will feature its own programming lineup to be broadcast exclusively on YouTube for 18 months. Producers are to take in 55% of ad revenue after Google recoups upfront payments, the Journal reported.
Imagine what this means for the likes of Cablevision (Nasdaq: CVC ) , Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) , DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV ) , and DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) . Consumers who've long wondered whether paying upwards of $100 to $200 a month for live programming might question the need for the portals they've begrudgingly come to rely upon.
But that's sugarcoating it. Eight of the top nine cable providers lost an average of 200,000 subscribers in the second quarter. I'll be surprised if Q3 data is much different. Time Warner Cable has already said it lost 128,000 residential video subscribers in the third-quarter.
More Dexter than Michael Meyers
Meanwhile, ABC, CBS (NYSE: CBS ) , and NBC will now face a fight for the hundreds of billions in TV ad revenue that flows to them as YouTube grows to be a network in and of itself. There's also a history of having infighting work in Google's favor. Cablevision and Fox failed to negotiate channel rights last year at this time. What happens when YouTube offers an alternative wherein carrying rates could be cheaper? Studios and distributors -- both of which could lose as YouTube gains -- could go to war with each other as Google waits on the sidelines.
We're still early in the process of YouTube's process of funding unique content over the Web. We don't know how good it will be. We don't know whether viewers' attachment to the television and known TV brands will make a difference, but I sense that the disruption here is bigger than most of Hollywood would like to believe.
Why? Consider where YouTube is. You can get it on any iOS or Android device. That includes everything from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) TV to Google's own set-top boxes to iPads, Android tabs, and tens of millions of smartphones. Distribution that television networks have long dreamed of -- distribution that could appreciably increase the available advertising pie -- would fall first to YouTube and its partners and Hollywood second. Reversals of fortune don't get more dramatic than that.
Going with the Halloween theme, it may be instructive to think of this new and improved YouTube as more like Dexter than Michael Meyers. The Showtime serial killer doesn't hunt innocents, but other serial killers. A bad guy who also happens to be a good guy -- if, that is, you buy the notion that good guys can also be cold-blooded killers. Happy Halloween, Hollywood. Enjoy it while you still can.
Now it's your turn at the podium. Do you believe the new YouTube will become a disruptive force? Please weigh in using the comments box below. Or if you'd prefer to avoid the risk of investing in ever-shifting industries such as media and entertainment while also boosting your returns, I recommend The Motley Fool's new special report, which features 11 top-performing dividend stocks. Get your copy now -- it's 100% free.